Last Train to Istanbul: A Novel - Ayse Kulin

Istandbul, Ankara, Paris, Germany, Egypt 1941.

"Spring arrived hand-in-hand with sorrow". Turkey was between a rock and a hard place. Britain demanded them to become an ally; Germany was threatening; Russia wanted Kars, Ardahan, the Bosphorus, and the Dardanelles. Choosing the losing side would have had dire consequences for Turkey. They learnt their lesson well after the first world war.

It was not only a unsettling time for Turkey, but also for Macit Bey. His wife, Sabiha, a girl who loved picnics and watching horse racing, suddenly turned away from life, as well as her motherly - and marriage duties. Their daughter, Hülya, did not receive any attentions from her anymore. She was obviously heading for a nervous breakdown, Macit thought.

Fazil Resat Pasa, and his wife Leman Hanim, had two daughters:
Sabiha, married to Macit Bey
Selva, married to Rafael Alfandari(Rafo).

Sabiha and Macit had a daughter, Hülya.
Selva and Rafo had a son, Fazil, named after his grandfather, Fazil.

However, grandfather Fazil did not care. Rafo was Jewish, and his marriage to Selva ripped both families apart. Fazil, the Muslim patriarch, rejected his daughter, and Rafo's Jewish family refused to accept Selva.

The couple fled to France where they hoped to start a new life - both as exiles of their families.

Hitler's rise brought fear to all the countries. Turkey's idea of remaining neutral still did not guarantee the inhabitants piece of mind. What it did offer to the citizens though, was a last train out of France for Turkish citizens, especially the Jewish ones. Selva and her baby were compromised by Rafo when all the Jews were rounded up to concentration camps. When in doubt, men were forced to drop their pants in public to identify Jews. Escape was hardly possible.

The incredible courage of the Turkish embassy staff, especially the actions of Macit and his friend, Taril, originally from Makatya in eastern Anatolia, lead to the evacuation of a large number of people out of harms way. A nine-day train ride back to Istandbul would become a journey through madness and mayhem and a discovery of true courage and intentions.

Freedom and love had to survive incredible odds in the ensuing challenges brought forward by the German's occupation of France. It becomes a tale of hardship, friendship, loyalty, and love between spouses, sisters, parents and children. Most of all it is a test for religious hypocrisy and the true meaning of forgiveness.

The involvement of Turkey, and the important role the country played in the war, have not been spotlighted in any popular renditions of the events. For this reason, The Last Train to Istanbul becomes a valuable contribution to history. The historical facts are detailed; the characters, complex - but endearing; the narrative, easy. The tale is multilayered, supported by a well-developed plot, underscored by a wealth of different emotions, and based on a true story. Everything in the book is intense and actually beautiful!

I recommend this book to anyone who values the principles of honor, integrity, and innocence in both the story as well as the writing style.